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"Consumers look for different things and want different attributes in their products and they should have the choice," he said.
Urvashi Rangan, the head of Consumers Union's eco-label website, said she wouldn't want to see a single unifying label or seal, because it would be too difficult for any one group to certify the environmental soundness of every product, service and business. But, she added that a good system wouldn't be as confusing as it is now.
"It's a morass out there to some degree," said Rangan, who also is a senior scientist and policy analyst for the consumer group. "I feel sorry for consumers and I guess that's why we put this thing out in the first place," she said, referring to the website.
The growth in green-labeled products mirrors the growth of green-interested consumers.
Nearly 8 out of 10 people surveyed said a company's environmental practices were important in making decisions about the products they purchased, according to the 2007 GfK Roper Green Gauge study.
Consumers also said they used a product's own information to help them determine what is green: 72% said product and package labels were major sources for environmental information, the GfK Roper study found. And about 30% of consumers said they were willing to pay more for brands that were better for the environment.
"Why do you think so many people are marketing to this niche?" asked Hamilton of the Sierra Club. "Because there are so many consumers out there who want to do the right thing."
Part of the problem, say Rangan and others, is a lack of oversight.
The Federal Trade Commission's guide for the use of environmental marketing claims says that manufacturers need to be able to substantiate claims such as "eco-safe," "nontoxic" or "environmentally preferable."
Seals aren't illegal unless they mislead consumers, although they should be qualified to explain their meaning, said James Kohm, the agency's associate director in the enforcement division.
But Kohm said that although the agency has noticed an increase in environmental claims, that alone isn't a bad thing since it reflects an area of consumer interest.
"There have not been a large number of environmental cases the past couple of years, but it is something we're looking at," Kohm said. "We always want to make sure that we remove the deceptive claims from the marketplace, but we don't want to do that by removing the good claims."
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